When Name-Calling is Your Job

When Name-Calling is Your Job

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the brave souls who welcome the challenge of correctly pronouncing hundreds of names at Commencement


Linda Fain

Hirschi High School IB Coordinator Linda Fain holds her stack of notecards just before heading into Hirschi’s 2018 Commencement exercises .



May 25 will be a big day for WFISD graduates, but it’s a big day for some WFISD employees, too. Commencement brings with it the responsibility that someone must read off—and pronounce correctly -- each of the hundreds of seniors’ names as they walk across the stage to collect their diploma.  Simple names. Long names. Foreign names. Unusual names.

Who does it and how do they prepare? We asked the high schools to tell us, and found that each high school has its own M.O.

At Rider High School and Wichita Falls High School, the counselors divide up the names and share the task of reading them off. But at Hirschi High School, one woman does it all.  International Baccalaureate Coordinator Linda Fain reads all names at the Commencement every year. She will read them again this year for the 10th consecutive time.

Here, some of these courageous name-callers share their secrets.

Linda Fain, Hirschi High School


I am the lucky one who gets to read the names at the Commencement ceremony each year. It IS a big job, and it's a job I take very seriously. No one wants his/her name mispronounced on graduation day.


My process begins at least one month before the Big Day -- sometimes longer depending on the difficulty of the names. I have a note card for each graduating senior with his name on it. I make it a point to hunt down students whose names look particularly difficult to pronounce. Usually these are students from different countries, but we have some pretty difficult American names, too!!


I have the student say his name slowly, and I spell the name phonetically on my card. Sometimes I use my own personal phonetics to make absolutely, 100 percent sure I get it right. Then I practice. Despite my best efforts to contact students, I will still have some come up on the day of graduation and give me pronunciation advice. And, despite my best efforts, I always seem to mess up at least one name. But when I do, I always try really hard to correct it immediately so the student can hear the name said correctly before walking the stage.


This is a tough job because people expect their names to be said correctly and are super sensitive about it. However, I really enjoy being the one to have the honor. It's a really important day and I want to be sure to do it justice for the students and parents attending.


I began doing this in 2009, so I guess this is my 10th anniversary!






Wendy Risner, Rider High School


I will be reading names at graduation this year.  I read the names of my own students' – the ones I counsel -- so that helps a lot.  I have had these students for four years as their school counselor.  If I am unsure how to read the name correctly, I call the student down to make sure I have it down correctly. 


We use name cards.  I write on the name card how to phonetically pronounce the name so I say it correctly.  I like to practice for about a week or two so that I am confident in how to say all the names I will be announcing.  Sometimes I record the student saying his/her name on my phone so that I can play it back several times for myself.  I think it is really important for students' names to be pronounced correctly.


Jill Lauck, Rider High School


It used to be that the assistant principals read students’ names at the commencement ceremony. But a few years ago, it changed, and each counselor began to read the names of their own students at the ceremony. We feel like we know them better, and so we know most of the names already.


We start about one month before assembling cards with the names of the students on them. These name cards are the same ones that the seniors will be given at graduation to hand to us when they go through the line at Commencement to be introduced.


To prepare, each counselor goes through the names individually. Any that we have questions on how to pronounce, we call those students down and have them go over the pronunciation with us. Sometimes with a difficult name, we will write notes to help us. One counselor asked a student to record the pronunciation on her phone so she could play it over to practice.


Susan Palmore, Wichita Falls High School lead counselor, S- Z

It is a big, stressful job reading the names!


The students we see are split up by last name, so we are calling out “our” student’s names, for the most part. We do have a counselor that feels uncomfortable trying to pronounce a lot of the Hispanic names, so she has gotten another teacher to fill in for her.


First, we print individual names on note cards. We use these to practice the pronunciation, but, also, the student will hand us their card at graduation for us to read their name from. It is given to them right before they walk out for graduation, so they don’t have to hold on to it or keep up with it for a long time.


If we’re unsure how to pronounce their name, we call them in and have them say it, and then we rewrite it phonetically on the notecard. And we keep practicing it. Even having some of these students for four years, it still can be a challenge to correctly pronounce their names!



Brittany Bailey, Rider High School Counselor A-C


In the Fall, we start going into all the senior classes with our clipboards of names. We ask students to double-check our spelling, capitalization, and their middle names. After we get this corrected, Wendy Risner makes each counselor note cards with each of their students’ names on them. Then we start practicing. Truthfully, when I see a freshman student with a tough name, I start asking them to pronounce their name for me over and over each time I see them!


Anyhow...we usually put sticky notes on the tough ones, and call them in. Many of us record them saying their names to help us. We practice up until graduation! We all do our run-throughs at graduation practice. Each of the counselors read their own students' names minus the Honor Grads. Those are read by our college and career counselor, Julie Johnson. Each of the counselors has her own quirks to help them remember and/or call out the names. I know Julie prefers to read off a sheet she makes instead of the note cards. 


The kids are all so helpful and forgiving as we are asking them 100 times how to pronounce their names. 


On graduation day, we hand each student their notecard and ask them to bring it up with them when they walk across the stage. Right before they walk across the stage, they hand it to us. This is the card where we keep our notes and/or pronunciation help that we have written to ourselves. We tell them many times not to forget the card, but every year we have at least one who wants us to test our knowledge of their whole name because they accidentally left theirs in their seat! The counselors have thought about changing methods this year, but as of now, we still have our trusty notecards.


We always have a copy of the graduation program at the microphone with us, just in case! When they forget to give us the card with their name on it, we ask them to point their name out on the graduation program.


I can’t believe Commencement is so close. I better go practice names!